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Volume VIII Number 6
November 1990

The older generation rug book, say, F. R. Martin's, wasn't too squeamish to include Yazd in its carpet taxonomy, but more recent authorship, say, May Beattie, is quite circumspect. (1) One way of investigating the possibilities is through the eyes of European travellers.

The Italian merchant Josapha Barbaro had first-hand knowledge of northern Persia and White Sheep Turkmen Tabriz in the middle of the 15th century. It is unlikely that he was in central Persia or Yazd. Its products he marked as "sylkes, fustians, chamletts, and other like", noting that Yazd imported silk from several areas, including Bokhara. In a discussion of Tabriz commerce, he wrote that its caravan traffic for Aleppo included "many light articles of silk from the manufactures of Jesdi." (2)

John Newberie, in Hormuz and Shiraz in 1581, but probably not Yazd, identified its products as both raw and finished cotton goods. (3) Teixeira, in the Persian Gulf in 1604, made (in English translation) this observation: "Carpets, by the Persians call'd Kalichey, are made in Three Parts of Persia, the richest, finest, and highest priz'd, at Yazd, some of which I have seen so curiously [finely] wrought, that they were valued at above a Thousand Ducats a piece; so that when they speak of a Yazd Carpet, which in Portuguese they corruptly call Dodiaz, it is to be understood of the finest, and best." He also mentioned the "many and rich carpets of Yazd." (4) While he was definitely in Aleppo and Baghdad, it seems doubtful if Teixeira was in central Persia and Yazd. The referent for "carpet", of course, is obscure, but "kalichey" might have a clear meaning.

Richard Steel and John Crowther visited Yazd in 1615 and in their journal noted its products as "Taffatas, Sattens, and Damaskes". (5) Chardin, active in Persia in the middle half of the 17th century, mentions Yazd as a source of embroidery, some of it using fine gold and silver thread, as well as being the producer of extremely expensive brocades. Another named Yazd product was stuffs made out of camel wool. Definitely in central Persia, Chardin may not have visited Yazd. (6)

Tavernier, in Kerman in 1654 and in Ispahan in 1664, said of Yazd: "They make at Yezd many stuffs of silk mixed with gold and silver which they call Zerbafte, others of pure silk called Dana which are like our plain and striped taffetas. They also make some of half silk and half cotton, and others of pure cotton which are like our fustians. [Coarse cloth made of cotton and flax.] They make there, in addition, serges of a particular wool, which is so fine and so delicate that this stuff is more beautiful and more expensive than if it were of silk..." (7) It is not conclusive that he was in Yazd.

Sauveboeuf, of the 1780's, associated a large commerce in silk and cotton cloth with Yazd. (8) Francklin, who traversed Persia in 1786/7, remarked of Yazd and "Carmania" -- the region in which Yazd was located -- that its products were woolen goods, silks, worked linens, felts, and carpets. (9) Fraser, in Teheran and Khorassan (but not central Persia) in 1821 and 1822, put silk manufacturing in Yazd, and placed Yazd on his list of carpet-making locales. His table summarizing the commerce of Persia identified various silk goods, cotton cloths, carpets, and nummuds (felts) among Yazd products. (10) The references to carpets by these authors may be to pile floor coverings.

Oliver, a traveller of the 1790's, makes comments ominously parallel to Chardin's, grouping Yazd with Kashan and Ispahan as sources of "brocades", "velours", "taffetas", and "satins"; and with Kerman as a maker of camel wool shawls inferior to those of Kashmir, but good enough for the rich. (11) Definitely in Kashan and Ispahan, it appears he did not visit Yazd.

Jaubert, in Persia 1805/06, when in Teheran mentioned among gifts to the harem "brocades of Yezd". (12) Drouville, of unknown itinerary in Persia in 1812 and 1813, described Yazd as "renowned for its products of silks, cotton and other stuffs." (13) These three Frenchmen are alike in not mentioning carpets.

Chesney, with first-hand experience in Mesopotamia in the 1830's, but otherwise equipped only with extensive reading -- albeit from good sources -- about the Near East, described Yazd as "producing carpets, felts, cotton and superior silk manufactures..." (14) The source of this information was an account by a Captain Christie, who did visit Yazd.

Someone who was in Yazd in the 1830's was C. H. Burgess, about which he commented: "Yezd I found greatly injured by the late war. It is a place of much production, and its manufactures of silks of all kinds are justly esteemed the finest and best in Persia; it is also famous for carpets, sweetmeats, sugar, and fire-arms. It was the seat of a very considerable commerce in shawls, brocades and precious stones, drawn chiefly from Cashmeer and India.. ." (15) Burgess presents a believable first-hand observation placing carpets in Yazd.

Oliver St. John, in Yazd in 1872, reported that the 9000 silk workers of the previously period had dropped to 300; he also mentioned felt production. (16) Orsolle, in the Teheran bazaar in the mid-1880's, listed among its products "the brocades woven by the Gueber women of Yazd". (17) The knowledgeable Percy Sykes, in central Persia in the 1890's, noted that there then were 700 silk looms in Yazd. (18) Savage-Landor, in the major Persian cities including Yazd, in 1901/2, during a long run-down of carpet making noted in an aside that Yazd made rugs, and that it exported "cotton carpets." (19)

What to make of all of the above isn't clear, and the best view is one of caution. There is no question about a textiles tradition in Yazd, but the pile carpet may be somewhat problematic. The majority of the authors mentioning Yazd has not visited it; thus the information is at a remove, and one needs to remember that a distinction between carpets made in a given place, and carpets coming from a given place, is not a travel literature characteristic. Moreover, the earlier the use of the term, carpet, in either French or English, the vaguer the referent, and often the word can only be taken to mean some sort of a covering for something.

The Teixeira quote has its problems. For one thing, it comes from a translation, not reliable. Assuming, however, that the key word "Kalichey" does refer to the Persian term for a small costly carpet (20), there is a requirement to treat the source gingerly with respect to its implications for Yazd output being among large, so-called classical carpets until there can be confidence as to what the term meant to at the beginning of the 17th century.

One notion which can be entertained is that in the first half of the 19th century some carpets originated in Yazd. Chesney was not there but was well versed in the east, and was relying on a first-hand report; Burgess was there. It is possible to believe, then, that the later central Persian output does contain some Yazd rugs which are currently unrecognized.


In 1785 one J. Griffiths, an English doctor, made the inland journey from Smyrna to Konia. He was generally literate in textile matters. For example, at "Allah-Sheer" (old Philadelphia) he commented: "Coarse cottons and carpets are here manufactured; the art of dyeing is said to be better understood than in most parts of the neighbouring country." (21) Four days later, at an unnamed village apparently two stages before Konia, he made a minor but quite significant observation: "In this village we found several hundred Greeks, who pursued an advantageous commerce in wollen cloths, and carpets of the Turkish manufacture; which, when finished, are forwarded to Koniah, and from thence to Constantinople and Persia." (22)

It is not difficult to arrive at a fair interpretation of this statement. The shipment to Konia can be taken as so, the further shipment less so, as Griffiths followed the product to Konia, but not further. (A more normal export route from Konia would have been Smyrna.) There is no question about the inhabitants being Greek, and their being weavers, not merely traders, for the comment "when finished" puts manufacture in the village. While the phrase "of the Turkish manufacture" is less than design specific, chances seem very good that a Turkish type rug is being referred to. The moral of this bit of reality is quite simple: speculation about either origins or design progression within a carpet type which ignores the possibility of ethnic diversity among weavers can only be deficient. Those who use materials and/or design change to locate or to date rugs make the unstated assumption that the only variables are place and time. In many rug weaving areas the omission of an ethnic variable is untenable.

Another instructive travel observation is made one by Pierre Jaubert in 1805. Drawn to the Kajar court in Teheran, as were many other Frenchmen during the Napoleonic Wars, while en route for Tabriz on his return trip, slightly past "Zenghian" and somewhat before Mianeh ("half-way") he stopped for lunch in a Shahsavan tent, which he observed was like the tents of the Kurds, and commented on the people. "Their principal industry consists of the manufacture of rugs and all sorts of little woolen items, such as stockings, slippers, gloves, etc., which are of a great perfection as much for the weaving as for the design." (23)

Collectors of Shahsavan pieces will register on how apt is the characterization of the weaving, and will not be surprised by the product range. The observation is a pointed reminder that nomadism and commerce were quite compatible, indeed, necessary, as nomads converted their material resource, wool, into forms suitable for exchange for items they lacked. This particular example is useful in that it occurs well before the Western interest in Eastern textiles, and reveals a local circumstance untroubled by outside influence. The idea that nomadic weaving was exclusively for home use is one of the canards of the rug world.


  1. Beattie, May H., Carpets of Central Persia, Kent, 1976.
  2. "Travels of Josafa Barbaro", A Narrative of Italian Travels in Persia, Hakluyt Society, First Series, No. 49, 1873, p. 73., p. 125.
  3. Purchas, Samuel, Purchas His Pilgrimes, "Voyages of Master John Newberie", Vol. VIII, p. 464.
  4. The Travels of Pedro Teixeira, Hakluyt Society, Second Ser., No. IX, 1902, Appendix B, "Relation of the Kings of Persia", p. 161; Appendix C, p. 243.
  5. Purchas, Samuel, Purchas His Pjlgrjmes, "Journal of a Journey of Richard Steel and John Crowther", Vol. IV, Glasgow, 1905, p. 225/6.
  6. Voyages du Chevalier Chardin, en Perse, ed. L. Langlois, Paris, 1821, Vol. IV, p. 128, p. 154.
  7. Tavernier, Jean, Les Six Voyages de..., Paris, 1678, p. 204. Research Report translation.
  8. Ferriers-Sauveboeuf, Memoires de Voyages, Paris, 1790, Vol II, p. 40.
  9. Francklin, William, "Tour from Bengal to Persia", in Pinkerton's Travels, London, 1812, Vol. 9, p. 256.
  10. Fraser, James B., Narrative of a Journey Into Khorasan, London, 1825, Appendix B, Part I, p. 22; Part II, p. 362, p. 354.
  11. Oliver, G. A., Voyage dans L'Empire Othoman..., Paris, 1800, Vol. V, p. 305.
  12. Jaubert, Pierre, Voyage en Armenie et en Perse, Paris, 1821, p. 236.
  13. Drouville, Gaspard, Voyage en Perse, Paris, 1828, Vol. II, p. 258.
  14. Chesney, Francis R., Expedition: Euphrates and Tigris, London, 1850, p. 224.
  15. Burgess, C. H., A Brief Notice respectin'g the Trade of the Northern Provinces of Persia, addressed to T. H. Villiers, n. d., p. 3, Burgess Family Papers, Box 4, Manuscript Division, N. Y. Public Library.
  16. St. John, Lovett, and Euan Smith, Eastern Persia, London, 1876, Vol. I, p. 175.
  17. Orsolle, E., Le Caucase et la Perse, Paris, 1885, p. 232.
  18. Sykes, Percy N., Ten Thousand Miles in Persia, London, 1902, p. 423.
  19. Savage-Landor, A. Henry, Across Coveted Lands, New York, 1903, p. 318, p. 384.
  20. Based on help from John Wertime.
  21. Griffiths, J., Travels in Europe and Asia Minor, London, 1805, p. 260.
  22. ibid., p. 265.
  23. Jaubert, Pierre, Voyage en Armenie et en Perse, Paris, 1821, p. 355. Research Report translation.
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